Drought Action

Drought Action THE current drought across central and western India and Kerala is forcing attention once again on how to deal with the problem. Ecologists have always had a deep interest in the problem, their argument being that societal susceptibility to drought increases with ecological degradation. And, through ecological improvement, this susceptibility can be reduced. A number of groups across India are working on drought issues.

Prominent among these is engineer-industrialist Vilas Salunke, the managing trustee of Gram Gaurav Pratishthan. Pained by the inadequacies of relief work during the extreme drought of 1973 in Maharashtra, Salunke has since worked on developing alternative drought management systems. His three-pronged strategy is to devise institutional means for equitable water distribution, right cropping patterns for the region and good watershed and land management. He developed water user groups called Pani Panchayats in several villages of Pune district to develop and manage small irrigation projects.

Salunke's cropping strategies take into account the fact that for a given amount of water, farmers can grow 40 times the acreage of bajra than sugrcane.

People's irrigation

RESEARCHING people's participation in irrigation schemes is R K Patil's forte. Such schemes often tend to be viewed in isolation and Patil's endeavour has been to dovetail them with other aspects of rural development - patterns of agricultural development and the specific economics of the region. He is a consultant with the Centre for Applied Systems Analysis in Development.

Fighting corruption

ANNA Hazare leads by example. Sixteen years ago, Hazare decided to turn Ralegan Siddhi, a village in the Ahmadnagar district of Maharashtra, into a green oasis, helped, of course, by government grants and projects. The village is today better able to deal with the recurrent droughts than its neighhours. But Hazare has now taken on a different battle - against the corruption of government officials involved in the drinking water schemes and the social forestry department.

Employment Safety net

M D Sathe has been a keen analyst of Maharashtra's Employment'S) the gov Guarantee Scheme (EG , ornment's panacea for drought relief. This 30-year-old system is among the best safety nets devised to date, but still has loopholes.

As secretary of Development Group, Sathe has authored several studies ' His fatest report, Rural Employment and Employment Guarantee Scheme in Maharashtra" critiques the scheme anq is avaiable as a full report. There is a Marathi version as well. The study provides an insight into how good EGS has been in combatting drought.

Sparing environment

KISHORE Saint of Ubeswar Vikas Mandel in Udaipur district has, over the last decade, taken a close look at the interaction between people,in drought-hit areas an their environment. People in a desperate situation are forced to overexploit their environment without a thought for the future, making even more susceptible to drought over time. The only way to break this cycle is to give people adequate relief and fast so that the can spare their environment.

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